Does Ghostwriting Mean Intellectual Prostitution?

I was discussing a client case with my mom – she often comes up with enormously high standards of quality so, I seek her judgment and views. A client that I recently spoke with misunderstood our blogging product. Brandanew provides strategic and implementation support for Corporate blogs, but we don’t ghostwrite. We just don’t have a service like that. I was describing the disappointment to my mother- every client meeting is so critical to us in our Startup phase. She didn’t fully understand it first and then, said, oh so your team will write but it will show up under someone else’s name? I nodded on cue over FaceTime. “No”, she said immediately. “It is what Shah sa’ab used to say, this is intellectual prostitution”. This was quite dramatic coming from my mother. And made me think, does ghostwriting mean intellectual prostitution?

Does Ghostwriting mean intellectual prostitution

Image source

What is the difference between Blogging and Ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting: Ghostwriting means acting as someone else’s writer/editor but not being credited for the work. Wikipedia says, “the ghostwriter is sometimes acknowledged by the author or publisher for his or her writing services, euphemistically called a “researcher” or “research assistant”, but often the ghostwriter is not credited.”

A blogger on the other hand, often writes his or her opinions on a certain topic/theme as a personal account. This is the Brandanew blog. I blog here in my personal capacity, as the head of the company, but my posts belong to me, and are my opinions. The same is true for our other bloggers and guest writers. Some bloggers may hire ghostwriters for writing in their place. So that, they don’t need to invest the time writing but still have an opinion piece running in their names.

The client recently was unclear about the terminology we use and what it really meant. He thought if we help them to blog, it automatically means that we would be ghostwriting. My response was simple. This sounded like they didn’t know the difference or had alternative expectations and assumptions. I explained. We don’t have that product. We don’t ghostwrite for anyone.

Why don’t we have a ghostwriting service?

Brandanew was set up on 3 key principles: 1) High quality, 2) Authentic engagements, 3) Originality. Authentic to us means, you say what you do. I don’t want to say that I wrote an article that someone else wrote. I will never get out of that guilt personally. You own up your voice. You bring out your humanized version as a company. And share what you believe in as a brand (personal or professional). We think content creation is similar to making art. We believe artists need to be acknowledged for their work. More than being paid. Their writing is the legacy and work they leave behind. It is sacrosanct to us. It’s something that we believe in. In addition, there are a few issues that arise with ghostwriting in today’s digital/social media driven world:

1) Ghostwriters sometimes tend to share (and I do have examples) their client work on social media. And that can get embarrassing for a brand/client when someone else realizes that the work is not their own.

2) Ghostwriting means you don’t want to invest time in finding techniques that can save you time to create content and instead rely on others. If you’re not a great writer, speak. If you’re not a great speaker, draw. Or just curate. Everyone has their own special communication technique. Authentic leaders need their own voice and can’t afford to be lazy. Your own special voice will help you differentiate.

3) Bloggers/ writers who guest post on your platform can help you establish a great tribe through their own networks. If you’re finding less time, invite others to write with you. Start a multi-author blog. I will stick my neck out and say, today’s world forces us to standout and be authentic. We can’t be smashing on our blogs and disasters to speak to on social media/real life. That creates a massive disconnect and lack of trust with the audience/ community.

Have I ever done any ghostwriting- why?

Surprisingly the answer is yes. A few years ago in school, I wrote a few blog posts for a company (paid) and then before I was leaving them, I decided to hand them over to them. I asked them specifically to take over authorship because it was not my field of interest and I didn’t want to be associated with that content. It was not bad content or nothing that I was not happy with. But it was on topics where I could not claim expertise on (and didn’t want to). At that time, I was going through a learning curve as a person. I had not realized that it didn’t matter if I had expertise or not. What matter was that I had a fact-based opinion to share, and I did not need to be an expert to share that. My opinion was legitimate, even if everyone disagreed with it. As I grow as a person, I have understood the importance of holding on to that thought. Perhaps, as a woman, this thought was more prominent in me. I wasn’t prepared to be hounded online for an opinion or association with a brand.

Does Ghostwriting Mean Intellectual Prostitution 2

Is ghostwriting ethical?

Yes. If a ghostwriter and the client are in agreement, it is ethical. It all depends on what personal priorities the agency/ghostwriters have. Wiki would have us believe that even Mozart was ghostwriting music for rich clients. And that, it is not uncommon in many artistic endeavors. Ethics is a tough topic, but at least as long as the writer and client are not in a forced relationship, it is ethical compared to plagiarizing content, that some shamelessly indulge in. It could sound different when ghostwriting is done for reasons of poverty or some other economical pressure and the writer undersells his/her art without choice.

Does ghostwriting mean intellectual prostitution?

The term has been attributed to a John Swinton from the NY Times. Allegedly Swinton said:

“We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities, and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”  (source)

A ghostwriter may still say things without pressure and as a personal opinion. So, no it may not be intellectual prostitution. Although, when it is attributed to someone else, it changes meaning in context. It is ok if not forced. But is it something we’d work on? No. I’m no one to judge what someone else does for a living. It’s their choice. But what we do is also a choice we make.

It takes a thousand years to make a brand perception and share a belief. It takes a single moment to lose what you work hard on. As a company, every time we struggle with decisions, we go back to why we started. And then, everything is clear again. The whole purpose of blogging is to share stories from a personal standpoint and create refreshing content. What’s the point if you have to rely on someone else to have an opinion?


Upasna Kakroo

Upasna co-founded Brandanew in 2014 for the sheer love of storytelling and authentic connections. She has been blogging and documenting digital stories since 2003.